On Thursday, Oct. 25, Duke professor and sociologist Dr. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva lectured on campus. Students filed into Tomson 280 to hear him address the topic of 21st-century racism.
Bonilla-Silva is renowned for his expertise on the current color division and his efforts in sharing it with the general public. He is the author of four books, “White Supremacy and Racism in the Post-Civil Rights Era,” “White Out,” “Racism without Racists” and “White Logic, White Methods: Racism and Methodology.” Along with his writing, he travels to various institutions around the nation to give speeches.
At St. Olaf, Bonilla-Silva delivered “From Dr. King to President Obama: Racial Vision, Racial Blindness and Racial Politics in Obamerica.” Bonilla-Silva’s talk was divided into three systematic parts in order to help students understand the topic of racism in the United States.
He first described the racial regime of post-civil rights America, illustrating it as a “now you see it, now you don’t” phenomenon. Essentially, he suggested that people’s overt acts of discrimination were a significant part of racism before the Civil Rights Movement, whereas racism is now based on people’s covert acts of discrimination. A perfect example of this covert discrimination, according to Bonilla-Silva, is housing segregation. At the start of the 20th century, there were laws and covenants set in place that inhibited families of color from living in privileged, “white habitus” communities. The current practices, in terms of housing, are much more subtle; real estate agents are able to steer Black, Hispanic and Asian families away from white areas and to their respective neighborhoods.
The second part of the speech focused on deciphering color-blind racism, which is the type of racism present in our society today. Bonilla-Silva suggested that Jim Crow’s racial structure morphed into the color-blind structure, which is composed of four unique frames. The frame that he discussed in depth was called abstract liberalism, which uses ideas associated with political liberalism and economic liberalism in an abstract manner to explain racial matters. By implementing this frame, whites can appear “reasonable” or even “moral” while countering almost all practical approaches to deal with the de facto racial inequality.
There were three other frames minimization of racism, cultural racism and naturalization apart from color-blind racism, although Bonilla-Silva did not have enough time to explain them.
In his book “Racism without Racists,” Bonilla-Silva writes that the minimization of racism suggests that discrimination is no longer a central factor affecting minorities’ opportunities in life. Rather, cultural racism relies on culturally-based arguments such as “Mexicans do not put as much emphasis on education” or “blacks have too many babies” to explain the standing of minorities in society, and naturalization allows whites to explain away racial phenomena by suggesting they are natural occurrences.
Lastly, Bonilla-Silva discussed how Obama and the post-racial movement fit the post-civil rights racial era. He voiced his utter disappointment with Obama’s lack of progressiveness and efforts in battling the issue of racism.
He started by suggesting, “Obama has done little to nothing on the race front and when pushed by certain circumstances he has done a lousy job.” Bonilla-Silva continued by proposing the following reasons as to why our black president has not been fixing the issue: Obama does not represent an honest social movement, his policies are centrist and he has moved clearly to the right, he has taken a problematic color-blind approach to politics and policies, a large portion of his funding comes from elites and they have received preferential access to Obama, and his rise to political stardom means something different for whites and non-whites, making even the symbolic value of his election a problematic matter.
Bonilla-Silva ended with an encouraging list of actions we can take as a nation to slay the “smiley sidekick monster” of color-blind racism. His three main points were that there needs to be a fierce urgency of now, we need to return to social movement politics and our ideas of change need to be innovative and modern.
Many students were extremely pleased hear Bonilla-Silva share his thoughts on racism today.
“His point about the need to talk about race, even though it’s difficult, was really important if we ever expect to see real change in our society,” Louisa Carroll ’15 said. Other students were simply overjoyed by his presence at St. Olaf, considering they had read some of his literature in class.
“It was great having him speak about his book,” Tosaka Thao ’15 said. “Silva reading dialogue was hilarious, and himself as a speaker kept me strangely entertained and attentive to the matters in America.”